What’s your type?
When commercial cattlemen attend a bull or heifer sale, they can often eliminate many offerings based on the data provided in the catalog alone. Once at the sale, additional appraisal is needed to determine if the great ones on paper also have the correct structure, soundness, functionality and eye appeal to meet the demands of the buyer.
This same method of weighing both the performance records and the visual aspects of an animal will be applied to a 2018 show this summer — the Eastern Regional Junior Angus Show. Scheduled for June 14-16 in Lima, Ohio, this Phenotype and Genotype Show is the first of its kind, and the American Junior Angus Association (NJAA) is excited for the potential this event has to offer its youth members.
“We are trying to bridge the gap between the show ring and the commercial producer, and this event offers our junior members the opportunity to have their animals evaluated not only for their physical appearance but for their genomic-enhanced EPDs, as well,” said Caitlyn Brandt, NJAA events coordinator.
The Eastern Regional Show is the Angus breed’s second largest event, making it a great venue to test run this contest. And although other breeds and shows do provide EPDs for the judge to review as the cattle come into the ring, there are no requirements for them to use the data as a tool in their class placings.
“With this show, phenotype and genotype are weighted 50-50,” said Bailey Palmer, NJAA events coordinator. “Entries will be required to gene test their heifers prior to the event, and once we have the animals checked in and classes created, the judge will have 24 hours before the actual show to evaluate the classes and score the heifers based solely on their genetic-enhanced EPDs. On the day of the show, the judge won’t have the EPDs in front of him. He’ll only be offered the birth dates on each heifer, and he will place the class visually. We will tally the score cards to determine the overall placings, and the judge will then be able to talk the class to explain his reasons for placing on both phenotype and genotype.”
On the genotype side, the judge will evaluate CED, BW, WW, YW, Milk, Marb, REA, $W, $B and a percentile chart. After the placings of both the phenotype and genotype results have been calculated, in the event of a tie, the phenotype results will take precedent.
“The show is open to both bred and owned and owned heifers,” said Brandt. “We want to open this up to as many junior members as possible, and we think this is a great opportunity to teach our members about EPDs and how to use these tools in heifer selection. We hope this is a start in the right direction, and the message is we not only want the heifer to look good, but we want her backed with strong data, as well.”
Scott Bush, of Bush Angus in Britton, S.D., says the phenotype/genotype show has great potential to attract new members and educate current ones about the importance of EPDs.
“There are a lot of positives to this event,” said Bush, whose family raises purebred Angus cattle and shows at national and regional Angus events across the country. “Not every kid is going to have their animal perfectly presented, so this opens new opportunities for the member who may not have their animal clipped and fitted as well as his competitors. He now stands a chance to win in this type of show, based on the performance records of his heifer. I think this is a great chance for kids to learn about the numbers, as well. For the young person who hopes to become a serious breeder in the future, this teaches about animal selection through performance-backed information.”
Today, commercial cattlemen have a great deal of data to sort through — carcass information, actual weights and gains, EPDs and now DNA-enhanced EPDs. Bush believes in five years, any seedstock producer who wants to be viable in this business will need to provide several generations of genomic-enhanced EPDs to his customers.
“I wouldn’t buy a bull without that information, but I do think the data comes with some limitations,” said Bush. “I believe our industry is pushing so hard for the numbers that we are starting to neglect phenotype in our selections. Just because one bull has a 800 pound. weaning weight, doesn’t mean he’s better than the bull who weighed 750 pounds. Does that 800 pound bull with the higher EPDs also have the feet, legs, hip, structure, muscle and testicular development to go with the data? I still believe in actual weights and visually appraising the animal. We shouldn’t base breeding decisions solely on paper alone, so I think there’s a balance to it.”
Bush collects tissue samples on every newborn calf born on his ranch, and he says whole-herd testing is the best way to accurately and reliably interpret the DNA information the genetic tests provided.
“So many producers only DNA test their top end animals, so that dramatically skews the median for which we are basing our EPDs on,” said Bush. “If you don’t use the most popular bulls on the market today, there is less data, as well, and while they say volume brings predictability and accuracy, I sometimes wonder if it really does. What about the producer who breeds to high-performance bulls that may not be widely used in the breed? The calves may perform well, but his data may not reflect it because his calf crop wasn’t as big.”
Bush’s advice for commercial producers is to weigh the data, along with actual performance records and visual appraisal of the heifer or bull. Then, make sure to have a conversation with the breeder before making a purchase.
“The data may be saying a bull is safe to use on heifers, but a breeder may be able to tell you more of the story,” said Bush. “He may have calving ease numbers, but does his phenotype lend itself well to easy calving? Ask questions before a purchase, and if you don’t trust what the breeder is saying, don’t buy from him. Most will be honest in what their cattle can do because nobody wants the phone call from a buyer who says he had to pull every calf during calving season.”
If done correctly, Bush says this show weighing phenotype and genotype 50-50 is an excellent way to balance the visual appearance of a heifer with the genomic-enhanced EPDs she has.
“This is a great tool for learning,” he said. “Anything that brings more kids to the ring is a good thing. If kids can be rewarded for having their animal look good and have big numbers, too, that’s an exciting new level of competition for the breed.”
To enter in the phenotype/genotype show, visit angus.org/njaa. All individuals must be genomic tested prior to May 1 in order to participate. Animals can be tested with any of the available platforms including Angus GS™, i50k or HD50k. For more information, contact the American Angus Association events and education department at 816-383-5100.